It is essential that the National Union of Teachers call our next action to coincide with the cross-union pay strike on 14 October.
We cannot afford miss the opportunity to co-ordinate with the country’s biggest unions, or the potential to make a greater impact by acting alongside school support staff.
You would think that the common sense of this approach would need little or no argument. The NUT continues to pursue our three-year campaign for pensions, pay, and education. Our 2014 conference reasserted the importance of co-ordinating with other unions, in particular school staff unions.
Unfortunately it may not be so straightforward. The NUT conference also agreed to run a full-scale consultation of members on the next stages in our campaign. We now know that this consultation (known as “the big conversation”) will start in early September via a mailing in the Teacher magazine and continue until 23 October. Then a special meeting of the Executive will consider the responses before debating the next steps.
The consultation will still be in process on 14 October. That should not prevent the NUT from taking action with them. We already have a mandate in our national ballots and conference decision. It will seem, and be, bizarre if we remain at work and cross picket lines on the day when support workers whom we struck with in July are on strike.
Nevertheless I expect there will be many on the NUT Executive who will see the ongoing consultation as a reason to abstain from joint action in October.
A 28 October circular to Executive members from the General Secretary stated: “colleagues on the Executive will have views about whether we could call action on October 14th, saying that the consultation is about action beyond that date, or whether we should wait for the results of the consultation before calling further action. This can be discussed on 5th September at the special executive”.
I will be arguing for the NUT to take action on 14 October side-by-side with the other unions. Our action is measured by its success in closing or partially closing schools and there is no doubt that teachers and support staff (including caretakers) together will be more effective than either group would be alone.
Also, teachers are better organised and more heavily unionised than support staff, and our abstention on 14 October would significantly reduce their confidence and the impact of their action.
Joint action can continue to pose questions for members of the other teacher unions: why, if they continue to oppose the pay and pension reforms and have a mandate to take action, do they refuse to be part of a growing campaign of co-ordinated action by millions of workers on the same issues?
Abstention, on the other hand, simply makes us look divided and disorganised.